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Universities Take the City

What do you get when you cross a school, a real estate tycoon, a hedge fund, a regional medical complex, a massive transit system, a private police force, a low-wage employer, and tax-exemption? Answer: an urban university. In this two-part series, accomplished historian and cultural critic Davarian Baldwin breaks down the relations of pillage, dispossession, and private profit that are increasingly prominent in the U.S. higher education landscape.

University of Chicago security leaning against "Downtown Hyde Park Chicago" sign

about our guest/s

Davarian Baldwin is the Paul Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies at Trinity University. He is the author of Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life, and he coedited with Minkah Makalani the volume Escape From New York: The New Negro Renaissance beyond Harlem. But his most recent work–and the work he joins us to talk about –is In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities Are Plundering Our Cities.

This study myth-busts on the far too prevalent idea that universities are always and forever championing the public good. Universities, especially  aren’t just centers for learning and teaching. They are also massive low-wage employers, they are medical complexes that sometimes set healthcare standards for entire geographic reasons. Universities also direct whole transit systems, they are real estate tycoons, with billion-dollar endowments that make them tantamount to “hedge funds that offer classes”—except that they’re tax exempt. Urban universities carve up city populations to create stylized enclosures for the privileged and cast out the racialized poor; then they enforce those boundaries with private police forces deputized to roam far beyond campus. If you want to read more, check out articles here and here.


This episode features music by the extraordinary two-part duo Akrasis, featuring Mark McKee (beats) and Max Bowen (raps). Hear more at